By Mark Putnam
On Monday, two members of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) — Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College — announced they would leave the organization in order to avoid its potential rupture in the wake of their decision to permit the hiring of gay and lesbian faculty members who are married or celibate. Before that announcement, two other institutions had already quit the CCCU, saying they would not remain if some of its members hired faculty in same-sex marriages.
The situation facing CCCU is a modern-day version of an ancient problem. For millennia, the Christian church has confronted recurring choices between purity and unity. Historical distance has drained the intensity of stressful moments of disagreement, however, and over time we have become dispassionate readers of ancient conflicts. Concerns over eating meat that had been sacrificed to an idol seem odd through a 21st-century lens, as do expectations for circumcision, and for some, honoring the Jewish Sabbath.
But while the conflicts in the Christian church today are different, they follow a familiar pattern. They begin with a controversial issue manifested in human attitudes, beliefs or behaviors, but they are quickly recast as an essential theological question. Admittedly, it is sometimes difficult to discern where theology ends and social or political ideology begins. Political discourse seems to be driving much of our theological debate today, and our society now interprets the label “evangelical” as a political alliance much more than as a group of churches with a redemptive mission.
Regardless of their origins, theological and ideological disagreements abound in the church today as they always have. What may be changing is the extent to which the debates are spilling over into related or affiliated organizations that claim a faith-based purpose. Higher education is no exception, as institutional members of the CCCU are feeling the strain of theological and ideological difference pulling them apart.
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